RPG Apps: The Mistranslator (Updated!)

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Sir Horatio Justinian de Recho, Usurper of the Villainous Bat-King and Right Hand of the Bishop, wiped the sweat from his brow before once again donning his greathelm and kicking down the ebony door of the necromancer’s lair.

“<You!>” the necromancer shouted in an abyssal language which echoed through the halls like a piglet being gelded. Switching to the common tongue, he continued “You dare profane my home? You shall die here!”

After seeking blessing from the Bishop and beginning a seven week process of arduous daily purification rituals, Horatio had undertaken a study of the foul language. The most banal sentence in Abyssal sounded more foul than a barful of drunken half orc sailors, and many times, Horatio almost gave up the study in response to the darkness he felt coating his soul stemming from profane knowledge.

As Horatio stared down the necromancer and his three ghoulish lieutenants, his tenacity was rewarded. The necromancer rose his self-flayed hand to his ghoulish soldiers and addressed them in Abyssal: “<The three of you attack head on. Hold him off until you see the soul mites emerge behind him, then retreat to me. Allow him to press the advantage so the mites can infect him from behind!>”

Horatio smiled, knowing he had the advantage. But righteousness demanded he not take an advantage unfairly, and also that he give his foe a chance to surrender. Doing both in one action, he spoke in his best Abyssal: “<Fiend, I demand you cease your dark magic ways now, lest I slay your never-born!>”

Ironically, in his attempt to even the playing field, he created an even greater advantage for himself. For the necromancer died on Horatio’s blade not through Horatio’s knowledge of the necromancer’s plan, but as he tried to parse what he heard from the paladin: “The devil and the firstborn from the dead witch needs to stop now!

About a year and a half ago, Intwischa launched version 1 of the Mistranslator App. The app is used to simulate mistranslations between parties who don’t share fluency in a language. The mechanic is simple: make your language roll when you try to speak a language in which you don’t have fluency. If you succeed, you say what you were trying to say. If you fail, you say something else. The Mistranslator feeds your original statement through an online translator through a handful of random foreign languages, and finally back to English.

The more you fail your roll by, the more intermediate languages your sentence is laundered through. For instance, the statement used in the story was translated from English to Polish, Polish to Korean, Korean to Latvian, Latvian to Swedish, Swedish to Portuguese, Portuguese to Finnish, and finally Finnish back to English.

Reader Alex Sinclair liked The Mistranslator, and decided to update it. Here’s what Alex has to say: Your mistranslator is awesome. I intend to thoroughly ‘entertain’ my players with it. The one thing I thought it lacked is the ability to specify what the result was. I mean, if I’m going to use it in a game I’ll want to use a specific target number instead of a random one. And what if players get bonuses to their roll? So, with that in mind, I upgraded it slightly. I’ve simply added the function ‘mistranslate’ which takes the text, target number, die type and result as it’s arguments.

Thanks, Alex, for not only suggesting how the app can be improved, but for implementing the improvements on your own! Here’s Alex’ updated app:

The Mistranslator

Target number:
Die type:
Result: (optional)
Results will appear here
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